Yoga Makes You Well

May you be filled with loving kindness, may you be well,

may you be peaceful and at ease, may you be happy.

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Teaching meditation to kids with malas

Posted on October 16, 2016 at 8:48 PM Comments comments (30)
My cousin is a pastor in a progressive Baptist church in town. They have summer camp for the neighborhood kids where they learn to love reading. And there are some bible lessons.
And there are some creativity and skill classes, too. They asked me to teach the kids a short little lesson about meditation. I thought that would be lots of fun.

I decided immediately we should make mala beads.

Mala beads are from India.They are used in counted chants and meditation. In traditional malas, there will be 108 beads and then one special bead at the end that is not counted that marks the beginning and ending spot where you turn around. Malas are used in chanting and in prayers and in meditation. Each time you say the mantra, you hold one bead. Then the next time you say the mantra, you hold the next bead. Until you get to the special bead at the end and that is the end. I did not want to make the kids thread 108 beads on their malas, so we just did ten or maybe twelve beads apiece. With the littlest kids, we did three.

Since I was working with little kids, I just taught them to use something they like as a mantra. I asked what they like. Some said kitty cats.Some said video games. Some said Pokemon. And so we used those things, one at a time, to chant while we worked our way through the beads. "Kitty cat, Kitty cat, Kitty cat, Kitty cat, Kitty cat, Kitty cat, Kitty cat, Kitty cat, Kitty cat, Kitty cat, Kitty cat, Kitty cat" works pretty well for calming the mind and clearing out thoughts that might not be positive. The mind can only hold one thought at the time, so the idea behind mantra is to replace the generally negative chatter of the mind with some positive, rhythmic sounds.

All the kids made their bead necklaces/ malas and they learned their personal chant, which is just a favorite thing. They seemed empowered by it and by the idea that their thoughts don't have to stay negative. They can do something to cultivate their minds into peaceful places and think better thoughts.

In America, yoga is something done on a mat moving your physical body for an hour or so. In India, traditionally, yoga is something done as a lifestyle with vows and precepts and there is not a lot of movement involved. It is basically the cultivation of a stable and peaceful mind. I suppose the hope is that the movement of American yoga will somehow stabilize the American mind. And open the American hips to be able to sit long enough to meditate. And it does, to a point. It is an entry point for this sedentary society to get acquainted with yoga and create some health and stability in our bodies and minds.

The original text of the yoga tradition is the Yoga Sutras. It is 2500 years old and is attributed to a man named Patanjali. It is written in Sanskrit, which is an ancient language that is no longer spoken, but which is supposed to be healing to speak and to hear.

The second verse of Chapter one of the Yoga Sutras is (in Sanskrit):
Yoga citta vrtti nirodhah

To look at that word by word, realizing there is much depth lost in translating anything:
Yoga- yoga

Citta- the mind, perception

Vrtti- twisting, whirling, spinning

Nirodhah- halts
(Rodhah is the goddess of storms and ni means the opposite or to negate.)

So it could be translated dramatically:
Yoga calms the whirling of the storm of your mind.

Or less dramatically:
Yoga calms the mind.

Either way works. You get the idea.

And so using mala beads (or cheerio necklaces, or whatever) to chant something pleasant and calming when your mind is feeling unpleasant and less than calm is helpful for establishing stability in the mind.

All together now:
Pokemon, Pokemon, Pokemon, Pokemon, Pokemon, Pokemon, Pokemon, Pokemon, Pokemon, Pokemon, Pokemon, Pokemon...










Little Things

Posted on August 18, 2014 at 6:01 PM Comments comments (31)
One of the ways yoga and meditation and massage could be described would be that they are all conscious cultivation of a better relationship with your own nervous system. 

Get on your yoga mat, you will sweat and breathe and move and align your nervous system in that hour.  Sit on your meditation cushion and you will close your eyes and breathe and still your focus inside your own body at your center point for that hour.  Get on the massage table and you will relax and release hormones that are aimed at feeling better and repairing your system as a whole. 

All of these (and plenty of others are out there) are ways to calm and focus and clear.  They all put you in touch with your actual self.  You become acquainted with the light inside of your own self.  And then things that are good for you start to feel good and right and things that are bad for you start to feel bad and wrong.  You find your own light and then you recognize light outside you too.

On the Passing of Robin Williams

Posted on August 14, 2014 at 1:17 AM Comments comments (24)
Now that man spread a lot of light while he was here on earth.

I have laughed so hard at things Robin Williams said that I have had water come out my nose.  He made the Vietnam war a topic that could be approached through his healing gift of comedy and his great love for humanity.

He did some amazing things with the spotlight he had on his life.  Having a spotlight on your life all the time cannot be fun or easy. 

I do not know what his mental health status was.  But he seems bipolar to me.  He was certainly manic on stage doing his stand up routines.  And I suppose he dealt with the lows that accompany those highs.

A lot of people I know try to judge if it is right or wrong for someone to take their own life.  I do not know and I do not think it is my place to judge it.  I just know it has to be so sad.

If he was bipolar, I have read that that tends to go along with a very high risk of suicide.  It usually happens in a mixed state.  A mixed state is a manic phase (high) with depression (low) at the same time. 

I am lighting a candle and dedicating my meditation and yoga practice to him to help him transition into a better place in his next life.  That is a Tibetan belief.  Also making things that smell good is supposed to help the recently departed to head toward the light. So I will cook some yummy smelling things, too.  For about a month, that is supposed to do some good.

One reason I study yoga and meditation is that it is so helpful for regulating moods and for helping to get thoughts more organized. 

Yoga is a practice to get the mind stable, basically.  And meditation is too.  The Yoga Sutras (the equivalent of a yoga bible that is 2500 years old) talk about the mind. 

Chapter one, verses 12-14 of the Yoga Sutras by Patanjali (translation by Mukunda Stiles):

The vacillating waves of perceptions are stilled through
consistent earnest practice
and dispassionate non-attachment.

Of these two, practice is the continuous struggle
to become firmly established
in the stable state of the true self.

That practice is indeed firmly grounded
when it is pursued incessantly,
with reverence,
for a long time.

Robin Williams, you were a light to many people.  I hope you find great peace.


Yoga and Astrology

Posted on August 12, 2014 at 12:20 AM Comments comments (26)
I sometimes get into astrology.  Every ten years or so, I start reexamining it.  This is one of those years. 

A week or two ago, I pulled up my natal chart showing the position of the planets in the sky overhead the moment I was born. There were the same patterns I have seen so many times in my life.  I got a book on the houses and I started reading about the placement of the planets in my chart.

One thing that was fascinating to me was that my chart said that a key elder would appear to me and help to guide me to become the person I want to be.

Now, as I was reading that, I thought of all the elders in my life.  They are mostly quite helpful to me.  But there is not one in particular that stands out as being the one I rely on. 

As I read on, the astrology source said, "this may be a person or it may be an ancient wisdom tradition."

Aha!

Yoga and meditation are ancient.  They are full of wisdom.  And unlike most things, they can help on the deepest levels to heal a soul first and then a mind and body. 

Therapy can usually only help people come so far and there are some things therapy cannot help.  Because it can only affect the mind.  The motivations are not touched in talk therapy. 

But yoga and (especially) meditation can help by helping us evolve.  As we become more evolved, health seems more and more normal.  

I am thankful for the wisdom and the elder experience I get from yoga and meditation.

Mission Statements

Posted on July 23, 2014 at 10:55 PM Comments comments (25)
One thing I love about yoga and meditation is how wonderful their traditions are around learning to be intentional in life.  I have learned so much in these past four and a half years since I started making yoga and meditation big parts of my life.

I think it is good to have a mission statement.  It makes the journey easier to navigate.  It is so easy to lose our way on earth.  We all make missteps.  We all take wrong turns.  But when there is a mission statement, it is easy to refer to it and ask, "Is this furthering my mission?" 

My mission as a yogi is to become balanced.  I believe in finding the middle path.  I am a person who can enjoy extremes.  I like adventure and excitement.  But a life of thrill seeking leads to over worked adrenal glands and an agitated mind.  Adrenals make cortisol which makes belly fat (not to mention disease).  And of course, thrill seeking leads to big highs and big lows that are both dangerous.

The middle path, on the other hand, is not very exciting.  It is often humdrum.  Plodding.  Unlikely to get anyone too excited.  "Living the dream", as I like to say, is all about going to work, doing yoga, studying yoga, volunteering, getting to know my family and friends, learning about trees, saving for retirement, taking good care of my teeth, improving my relationships and building my compassion.  

This is something I am discovering for myself at a late date in my life: intentional living is sexy.  What I once thought was "cool" and what I really think is cool now are such different things.  Slow and steady wins the race.

Fences, neighbors, forgiveness

Posted on July 13, 2014 at 8:13 PM Comments comments (19)
Today's guest post comes from Joel Smith.  What can I say about Joel?  He is a friend from college, so I have known him over twenty years.  He and I both have gone through many phases of our personal moons as we traversed our twenties and thirties.  Forty brings some disparate threads together and I have found myself feeling the need to weave them into something true and personal as I pass midlife and head into the second act of this play.  For Joel, this means letting go of the freedom of flying all around the globe as a flight attendant and going back home to south Georgia (from Hawaii!) to take care of mom and dad.  He has made the transition with a great deal of grace and love, as he does most things. 

Joel meditates and explores religions generally.  Back home in Douglas, he has been exploring the faith he and I were both born to and raised in, Christianity.  Ghandi wrote that he was often asked to switch to a number of different faiths as he met people on his spiritual journey.  He always replied that he thought all faiths were valid and that he was born a HIndu and that was the faith he would remain, although he did see the merit of other faiths.  I loved him for that.  Joel is honoring the faith he was born into by studying it and applying its lessons.  I get such a sense of place as he writes about the bible, neighbors, and summertime watermelons.  This poignant little blog post captures so much of what I have always loved about Georgia.


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This morning I read lesson 134 in A Course in Miracles. It invites us to spend 15 minutes with “the Guide Who understands the meaning of forgiveness  … Then choose one brother as He will direct, and catalog his ‘sins,’ as one by one they cross your mind...”

I sat on the screened porch with a timer, closed my eyes and was surprised that my neighbor Paul came to mind. Paul has lived next door since my parents bought this house over 30 years ago. He is kind, devoted to his family, and has been nothing but helpful in all these years. Since I’ve moved back in to help look after my ailing parents, he often calls to me from his yard to ask about their health. At least this naming of grievances part of the exercise would go by quickly, because I’ve got nothing against the guy, really, except that he doesn’t like my dog, which I understand; she barks at him sometimes.

Oh yeah, and he had called me over to the fence the other day to complain that my mother sometimes lets the dog out without a leash. That was really uncalled for. She’s such a good dog; who cares if she gets a taste of freedom occasionally? He’s just not willing to try to get the dog to like him. He thinks it’s hopeless to try to train a dog like ours to be nice to neighbors. I bet he watches a lot of that ridiculous cable “news” channel where they harp on things like dog attacks. He must be pretty gullible to believe what he sees on TV over the evidence in real life right next door. He is so old that really he is set in his ways. There’s just no hope for him to change. And on and on it went. I had considered this man a friend, and the list of his “sins” was surprisingly long.

The lesson instructs me to ask myself, after each “evil thing” I’ve listed, "Would I condemn myself for doing this?" At first, my answers were along the lines of “No, of course not. I love dogs. I’m not that gullible. Or that old.” Then I remembered a Course principle that Jacob Glass recently spoke about: "ideas leave not their source."  These accusations and evil thoughts never left the mind of the accuser, yours truly. By holding these grievances about the neighbor - a friend - I was poisoning not just myself, but my entire experience of life and the world. And if I’m doing that with these minor complaints about a good neighbor, I shudder to think what I’m doing with people I actively dislike or fear.

The Course tells us that we are all part of a unified Sonship, that God’s creation is one with itself and with Him in truth. As Michael Beckwith shouted to his congregation last Sunday, channeling the Beatles, “I am you and you are me!” By holding things against this neighbor, I was immediately contaminating my experience of God. I was the source of these judgements. I could hold on to them, or I could enter a place of calm peace by just realizing I have been instructed to love my neighbor as myself -- because he IS my Self. We are both part and whole of the perfectly created unified Self. My butt was still in the patio chair, but my spirit was soaring. Waves of peace and joy washed over me as I surrendered to this realization and allowed petty grievances to dissolve in Holy Light.

The phone rang before my timer sounded, and I was feeling too good to get up and answer. A few seconds later, my mother came to the porch and ended the revelry: “Paul wants you to go meet him at the fence.” If my life had a movie soundtrack, the angelic music would’ve stopped suddenly with that sound effect of a needle sliding across a record. Never in 30+ years had Paul called on the phone and asked for me. Are we being sued? Had Mom ignored the signs I’d put on the front and side doors to make sure the dog was on leash?

I donned flip-flops and dutifully walked toward the fence in the hot sun. I could see this 80-year old man was carrying half a watermelon and a big Ziploc bag full of sliced cantaloupe. I thanked him as he passed the locally grown gifts across the fence. He smiled and said he hoped we were all doing well, then turned to go back inside. As I got back inside our house, I was greeted by the sound of that timer on the porch. The morning’s lesson was over, and today it had included a little field trip and a light breakfast. 





11 weeks of yoga and meditation chart update

Posted on July 11, 2014 at 10:23 PM Comments comments (19)
With a catchy title like that, you know this is going to be an exciting post!  Lol.  I just thought I would fill you in on little things that are kind of big things that have been coming about as a result of showing up really regularly on my yoga mat and also from meditating so much. 

I wrote in a few other posts about the chart on my wall that tracks my daily yoga and meditation with a "Y" and an "M".  I have been teaching or attending about 4 yoga classes and meditating 6 times per week on average for almost three months.  It is all there on the chart on the wall.

In my early twenties, I broke my foot in a fall and it healed well except there was a lot of scar tissue left over.  Because of this, I have used it in a weird way ever since.  My middle three toes on the foot all moved as one toe and would not spread apart.  My big toe would not grab the floor.  It just floated.  The pinky toe did what she could, but she was pretty little to carry all that responsibility.

In this focused yoga practice, my big toe started grabbing the floor and grounding for the first time in my life about a month ago.  And then about a week ago, my three toes that have been stuck together for close to two decades started spreading out. 

I had done yoga a couple of times a week for years and sometimes more than that.  But this is remarkable.  

One of the tenets of yoga is Careful Foot Placement.  The idea is that we build our poses from the bottom up.  Create grounded stability first and then there is freedom.

It feels good to spread out and wiggle and see space between all my toes again.

An Engineer Meditates

Posted on June 25, 2014 at 10:34 PM Comments comments (129)
My meditation group meets weekly and brings together all sorts of varied characters.  One of these characters is my pal, Karl Rosenblum.  He is a meditator and an engineer. He blogs about it at http://karlrosenblum.com/blog/meditate/, so if you like his post, surf on over and check out his site.
He is today's guest blogger.
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  I have the worst possible mind for meditating. Not only is my brain working overtime on ideas and next steps on everything from work, yard projects, family and blogging, but my job as a strategic planner for a manufacturing company, has me looking out in intervals of 2, 5 and 10 years in the future. This is definitely not "being here and now."

   But that being said, perhaps that's why I decided to meditate. It's easy to chastise myself about past mistakes and plot a million future scenarios, but it’s hard to just sit in the present moment and think of ...nothing! Learning meditation in a group environment taught by monks was just the ticket.

   So, how did I do it? Yes, practice and determination were important, but I needed a few tricks. First off, get centered, no sense thinking about what is going on outside of the meditation hall. Second, focus on a simple object to prevent random images from creating a distraction. Call it a mantra for the eyeballs. And lastly, and the hardest for me, repeat any mantra over and over to crowd out the sporadic thoughts and imaginary conversations. Drown it out! Louder and faster is better, although not out loud.

To capture my thoughts I decided to blog about my experience. In the blog, I describe the challenges and successes with my meditation practice, including the details my left brain has decided to catalog. As a result, I have become mindful of my progress in the art of mindfulness.

I may not be getting this

Posted on June 22, 2014 at 12:02 PM Comments comments (77)
I was headed to teach my little ESL class a few weeks ago at the Buddhist Meditation Center.  I was driving in five o'clock traffic and I was running late.  Traffic in Atlanta can be truly terrible.  And it was.

As I exited the superhighway (12 lanes across), a man in a fast car cut me off and zipped past me, honking his horn. 

I have only been late to meet with the monk once, and it is very bad form.  I understand the importance of being on time for that meeting.  I felt lots of pressure to be on time.

As this man zipped past and honked, I honked my horn right back and then I shot a bird at that rude driver.  I hardly ever do that.  But he was such a jerk.  And what nerve!  He was making me late to go work with the... monk... and the... staff... at the... Buddhist... meditation,,, center.  Awww, man!  I just totally blew it.

One of the benefits of meditating is supposed to be evolving to a more kind, compassionate mindset.  You are supposedly building your merit whenever you meditate.  You attract good things to you when you meditate and do good deeds (like teach an ESL class).  When you get enough good deeds piled up, then you reach enlightenment. 

It occurred to me as I sat in my little car, trudging toward my little class, having just lost it at a rude Atlanta driver, it occurred to me that I might not reach enlightenment in this lifetime.  I just might not get there,  For a moment, I had a good look at how far off it is and it seemed like a long, long way.  In Georgia, where I am from, we would say, "It's a ways off."  Enlightenment, for me, may be a ways off.  It's okay.  I can still build up a big pile of good deeds. And drive around Atlanta, doing good deeds, flicking people off... reaching enlightenment... slowly.  Very slowly.

Brunch

Posted on June 1, 2014 at 10:59 PM Comments comments (23)
This day had some nice parts to it.  I talked before about my chart with the Y for yoga and the M for meditation.  I have been working diligently to get those letters most days.  I spend fifteen minutes sometime in the day in meditation and I attend a yoga class most days of the week.  One unintended benefit of this more rigorous yoga practice is that I got an invitation from a cool yogi friend out to brunch today. 

One of the reasons I try to put myself into healthy situations and do healthy things is that I meet others who are doing the same thing.  Then those are the people who become my friends.  I set myself up for healthy relationships by doing healthy things.

I went to brunch with my friend and it was delicious and I felt inspired and connected to someone who I think is a really good person.  Big positive.  And were it not for the chart on the door of my closet, I would have probably slept in this Sunday morning. 

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